At the end of a remarkable race on an equally remarkable race track, Austin Hill took home the trophy in Friday night’s Corn Belt 150 at Knoxville Raceway.
After a fourth attempt at overtime in the inaugural NASCAR Truck Series event at the iconic .5-mile dirt track, Hill scored his first victory of the season in a race that featured 14 cautions and a 17-car pileup in Turn 1 that could rival the biggest “Big One” at Talladega.
Moments after Hill took the checkered flag to end the fourth overtime, fireworks exploded in Turn 3, but they bore pale comparison with the pyrotechnics that punctuated a race that extended 29 laps past its scheduled distance of 150 circuits.
The decisive moment was much more subtle. After a Lap 171 restart—the third-overtime — Hill nosed ahead of Chandler Smith, who had done yeoman work on old tires and led seven times for a race-high 71 laps.
A four-car incident involving Tyler Ankrum, Stewart Friesen, Zane Smith and Johnny Sauter caused the final caution, with Hill having led at the previous scoring loop. That was all Hill needed to hold the point from the inside lane on the final overtime restart.
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Two laps later, he crossed the finish line 1.207 seconds ahead of a disappointed Smith, who saw his chance to escape the NCWTS Playoffs bubble with a win evaporate in the last shootout.
The victory was the seventh of Hill’s career.
“Man, I thought we were out of it,” said an elated Hill, who had shown speed throughout the race but fell back from the second position after a restart on Lap 73. “I thought we were out of it for a little bit. I had that restart outside of the 38 (Todd Gilliland) earlier in the race, and I fell back all the way to like 20th.
“I didn’t think we were going to make it back up. Track position was huge. It was really hard to get around people—you had to kind of rough ‘em up a little bit to get around ‘em. But we don’t stop, we don’t quit, even when we think we’re down and out.”
With the victory, Hill clinched a spot in the Playoffs. Smith, on the other hand, will have to sweat out the final regular-season race Aug. 7 at Watkins Glen, though he holds a relatively comfortable 40-point lead over Derek Kraus for the final Playoff berth.
Kraus won the first and second stages Friday and finished fifth by avoiding most of the chaos at the end of the race.
… *Not happy* … pic.twitter.com/pIoFdxbuWh
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The 17-truck crash ignited in Turn 1 seconds after the field took the green flag for the first overtime on Lap 154. Among the many victims was 10-time Knoxville Nationals winner and 10-time World of Outlaws champion Donny Schatz, who was making his NCWTS debut.
“I had nowhere to go — I was just along for the ride,” Schatz said. “I thought I was going to have a top-10 finish.”
Schatz instead finished 32nd. The best result achieved by a dirt-track ace was eighth by Knoxville Raceway track champion Brian Brown, who fell two laps down after a pair of spins but regained the lead lap as the beneficiary under consecutive cautions and managed to escape the third-stage melees.
Grant Enfinger ran third, followed by Gilliland and Kraus. Matt Crafton, Ben Rhodes, Brown, Tate Fogleman and Danny Bohn completed the top 10.
Of note: When Stewart and Jessica Friesen took the green flag on Friday night, it marked the first time since Elton Sawyer and Patty Moise raced together at Atlanta in 1998 that a husband and wife have competed in the same NASCAR national series event. They finished together—Jessica in 26th and Stewart in 27th.